System suggests projects for stimulus
Nominated for aid: American Archive, Lightpath, Native stations and more
CPB, NPR and PBS, in consultation with the Association of Public Television Stations, want President-elect Obama to include $550 million for noncommercial “public-service media” in his far larger package of spending and tax cuts to stimulate the economy and upgrade the nation’s infrastructure.
The national organizations’ Jan. 2  letter [PDF] proposes federal aid for six projects involving public radio and TV that will create jobs and “produce sustainable improvements to the nation’s communications infrastructure.”
One project would entail a one-time federal investment in “support for station capacity.” The letter tells the new administration that the pubcasting system “is showing signs of stress,” with this year’s revenue losses estimated at as much as $300 million and some 1,000 station jobs “now at risk.”
In addition to the financial support for stations, the letter suggests these areas for “a stimulus investment in public media”:
- National Public Lightpath, a proposed “super–high-speed” interconnection of schools, nonprofits, pubcasting stations and government agencies using light waves over optical fiber cables. Construction of “last mile” (and last–many-mile) connections to regional fiber backbones would create 1,800 jobs for a year as well as jobs in manufacturing. Operation of the network would create 270 permanent jobs.
- Development of the American Archive, which would preserve, index and clear rights for access to “billions of dollars worth” of historically significant public TV and radio programs. The work would create hundreds of jobs, the letter says.
- A preschool Teach for America program, focused on 100 economically troubled communities, to improve children’s reading ability by training teachers and caregivers to use new-media–based educational tools. This would create 200 education positions at stations.
- Building a crisis-response capability in 75 communities and creating about 750 positions, including producers and community-engagement staffers. The letter cites KETC’s CPB-supported work with the mortgage foreclosure issue in St. Louis.
- Access 2.0, a campaign to expand access to media for disadvantaged groups. For example, the letter proposes to fund startup staffing of 30 planned Native American pubradio stations that received FM construction permits during the past year. This would create several hundred positions at local public media institutions and several hundred more outside of stations, the letter estimates.
Tim Isgitt, CPB’s v.p. of government affairs, says the letter’s intent was to “offer a menu of options for the Obama transition team to consider” while it assembles an economic stimulus bill. Isgitt stresses it was not a formal funding request to Congress.
“It was the first step in a process, and we will continue to work to refine these ideas with Congress and the transition team as time and interest permit,” he adds. “It was an offer and a statement that public service media is ready to help.”
The Obama transition team thanked the pubcasters for their letter, CPB says, but has not given detailed feedback.
Lightpath: shovel work to be done
If the new president is looking for anti-Depression projects reminiscent of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, with lots of bootstraps and shovels, the National Public Lightpath has potential.
It’s a plan to extend access to existing optical fiber networks that are 100 to 1,000 times faster than a T1 connection to the Internet, such as Internet 2 and National LambdaRail.
In public media, it would interconnect the pockets of fiber-equipped stations and media centers, such as Louisiana, where the state has been working toward a statewide fiber network for years and has linked several universities together.
Louisiana Public Broadcasting, one of the future users, now has fiber links to four of its six transmitters around the state and may begin operating them within weeks, says Randy Ward, LPB director of engineering.
The Lightpath would interconnect with the National LambdaRail, a network that already provides 10 Gigabits-per-second transmission among more than 400 public universities. So it wouldn’t have to dig ditches across a continent. Telecom companies stand ready to lease access to long-distance backbones between and through big cities. What remains to be done is laying fiber lines to schools and nonprofits, to low-income neighborhoods and to low-density rural communities where there are no supercomputers.
Video editors are among the potential users who see practical gains from fiber. When Bay Area Video Coalition, a partner in the Lightwave project, looked into fiber access, it was surprised to find unused capacity in a cable under its street in San Francisco, says Jennifer Gilomen, BAVC’s lead developer, strategic initiatives.
BAVC now has a fiber connection in its building and soon hopes to connect its video editing suites. With 10 Gbps speed, video production teams can collaborate far more efficiently than they can today, Gilomen says. Instead of spending an evening to compress a partially finished program, burn a DVD and express it to a production colleague in another city, a video editor using a fiber connection will be able to transmit the hour of high-def video, 24 Gb in size, in a few seconds.
St. Louis project cited
The letter lists prospective partners for each potential project. Loris Ann Taylor, head of Native Public Media, says CPB approached that group earlier this month for a discussion of “how we might be able to address the needs” of the startup stations on Indian reservations.
Native Public Media also met with Obama transition reps in December, “which gave us an opportunity to present our policy priorities,” Taylor says. “They were very receptive. The fact that they were willing to sit down and talk with us is extremely important.”
The Harwood Institute, a community-involvement consultancy that has been working with stations and CPB, is a potential partner for the crisis-response efforts. The letter cites the institute’s ongoing work with KETC to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. The multiplatform project in St. Louis includes a coalition of community organizations and a hotline that has helped some 8,200 families since July.
“The mortgage crisis work has made a difference,” says institute President Richard Harwood, and is a perfect example of pubcasting’s central role in “connecting people to information and resources to deal with the crisis in their own lives as well as their community.
Originally published on Current.org Jan. 7, 2009.
Web page posted Jan. 13, 2009
Copyright 2008 by Current LLC
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